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National Recommendations For Folic Acid Across Europe - Non-Aligned And Confusing For Consumers

10.07.2007
A Preliminary Survey presented at the European Congress of Nutrition (Paris 10 July 2007) and completed for the EURRECA Network of Excellence by experts at Wageningen University reveals wide variations in recommendations for folic acid and many other micronutrients across Europe.

“No wonder consumers across Europe are confused,” says EURRECA partner Professor Lisette de Groot, from the University of Wageningen and one of the authors of the Survey.

“Individual countries convene expert panels and review their national guidance on recommendations for micronutrients at different times, which means they are often not working with the same or most up-to-date scientific information. This results in national recommendations being out of ‘sync’ with each other.

To add further confusion, nations use different standards and definitions when making their recommendations. For example, some group all adults together and provide one recommendation; others provide separate recommendations for men and women. Age groupings for babies and children also vary.

Folic acid is a good example of wide variation in recommendations in official guidance, due mainly to the fact that scientific knowledge on this micronutrient has increased dramatically in recent years.”

“In the case of folic acid, discrepancies exist between state-of the-art scientific opinion and the standard nutrient recommendations in government reports,” says EURRECA partner Professor Helene McNulty from University of Ulster, an expert on folic acid. “Scientists now universally agree that women of child-bearing age wishing to become pregnant should aim at an extra 400mcg of folic acid a day to combat neural tube defects in their babies.

Many standard national documents do not include this specific recommendation as currently they only include recommendations for non-pregnant women and pregnant women – not for ‘hoping to be pregnant women’!

Similarly, the standard adult recommendation for folic acid (for men as well as women) does not yet take into account the exciting new role this vitamin plays in reducing homocysteine, an important risk factor in heart disease and particularly in stroke. The EURRECA Network will be able to support the ‘fast tracking’ of important recommendations such as these into national policy across Europe. ”

“To make the best choice for themselves and their families, consumers need to have confidence in the nutritional advice in official documents given to them by health professionals,” says Dr Loek Pijls, Senior Scientist at ILSI Europe, Co-ordinator of the newly formed EURRECA Network of Excellence.

“Variations in official scientific advice across Europe, such as those that currently exist for folic acid, are confusing for policy-makers and health professionals let alone consumers,” continues Dr Pijls.

“With increasingly mobile populations across Europe, it is critical that these discrepancies in nutrition advice are addressed. People, particularly at vulnerable life-stages such as pregnancy, childhood and old age, must have access to ‘state-of-the-art’ nutrition advice that supports their health and well-being.”

The EURRECA network, involving 34 organisations in 17 countries, has been established and funded by the European Commission to address these discrepancies and work towards a framework of harmonised advice on micronutrients. EURRECA’s work will not only consider nutrition science advice but also policy implications and applications that take into account national social, cultural and ethical differences. The aim is to produce Europe-wide scientific consensus on micronutrient recommendations that can be utilised and converted rapidly and conveniently into national policy.

Further initial work by the EURRECA Network has identified the priority micronutrients on which to concentrate its efforts such as vitamin D and iron. Pregnant and lactating women, children and the older generations are among its key cross-nation target populations.

“This is a large task and the EURRECA Network does not under-estimate the challenges ahead,” states Dr Pijls. “We look forward to collaborating and exchanging views with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which has been charged with developing a set of micronutrient recommendations for European populations. Through dialogue and co-operation between nutritionists, food standards authorities and national professional organisations, we will provide a framework that will bring the best science to the fore and enable its rapid translation by agencies into recommendations.

Consumers across Europe have a right of access to the best nutritional information available, so they can make more informed choices about what they eat, wherever they live and at whatever stage of life.”

•The EURRECA Network of Excellence is holding a Symposium 10th July 2007,
6pm – 7.15pm at the 10th European Nutrition Conference, Palais de Congres,
Paris to share with delegates the aims and early activities of EURRECA.

Rhonda Smith | alfa
Further information:
http://www.eurreca.org

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